Robert Stephenson's Angels contract details reveal creative fourth year option

The Angels signed Robert Stephenson to a three-year deal with a possibility for a fourth.
Sep 13, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Robert Stephenson (26) and
Sep 13, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Robert Stephenson (26) and / Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Angels made their biggest splash of the offseason thus far, inking Robert Stephenson to a three-year deal worth $33 million. Stepheson was arguably the best reliever left on the market after Josh Hader signed his mega-deal with the Astros, so the Angels did well to really improve what was once again a lackluster bullpen in 2023.

Stephenson was a needed addition, but is one that comes with question marks. The biggest one is, well, just how good is he actually? We know how special he was down the stretch. Stephenson posted a 2.35 ERA in 42 appearances and 38.1 innings pitched after a midseason trade with the Rays, striking out 60 hitters compared to just eight walks as a Ray.

For as good as that stretch was, he was nothing more than an average to below-average pitcher at the MLB level before this deal. The Angels hope he's the good version, but he can always be the next Aaron Loup or Ryan Tepera.

It turns out, his performance isn't the only question. ESPN's Jeff Passan raised another one, which was answered in the form of a creative option for a fourth year of the contract.

Creative fourth year option added to Robert Stephenson's contract reveal concern for newest Angels reliever

"With questions about Stephenson's elbow health -- he began last season on the injured list with elbow soreness -- the Angels will receive an option for the 2027 season at $2.5 million if his elbow needs Tommy John surgery or causes a long absence, according to sources."

Jeff Passan - ESPN

This comes as a bit of a surprise as Stephenson has racked up a large amount of appearances in recent years, but he comes with health concerns. These concerns are so great that if he misses a substantial amount of time due to an elbow injury, the Angels then have the option to tack on a fourth year at just $2.5 million.

For reference, Luis Garcia signed a deal worth over $4 million this offseason with the Angels. Adam Cimber signed a deal just under $2 million despite posting a 7.40 ERA this past season. $2.5 million is ridiculously cheap for any reliever, let alone one who just got a lucrative three-year deal. That must mean that the Angels really view the elbow as a major concern.

Stephenson missed time last season with some elbow soreness, but made 60 appearances and was obviously better and better as the season progressed. This concern could all be fine, but the Angels will have to be careful managing his workload coming out of the 'pen.

The Angels did well here to essentially add a security blanket if they lose arguably their best reliever for a substantial amount of time. They added a fourth year at incredibly cheap money that should allow them to get something out of the deal. If he turns out to be hurt for that season or not pitching well, the Angels can simply choose to decline the option and let him go after the three years. No risk, with the chance for some reward.

We obviously hope they won't even have to consider a fourth year option, but they did well to get creative and add the security into the deal.